Millennials Part 2: Reversing Mindless Stereotypes Head On
The “entitled”, “lazy”, “irresponsible”, “don’t want to be told”, “job hopping”, “disloyal”, “everyone gets a medal” generation. As discussed in the last millennials blog, there are a ton of stereotypes floating around about this latest group and yet hardly any of them are true and even less are millennial specific.
The problem is just because stereotypes aren’t true doesn’t stop them having an impact on your business. These preconceptions are so prevalent, so ingrained, they almost can’t help but filter up and influence the attitudes, behaviours and conversations of employees. Fuelling, to some degree or other, an intergenerational tension within your company’s culture.
Stamping out stereotypes altogether is never realistically going to happen because it’s just how the brain operates. The mind has so much to take on and processing new information has to be quickly boxed up and packaged in line with pre-existing knowledge and beliefs to keep us functioning normally.1 In this respect, old vs. young stereotypes are unconscious, automatic, efficient and inevitable.
So, what can you do to tackle them? Well, based on research I’d suggest two things work well: reverse mentoring and mindfulness training.
1. Reverse Mentoring
Firstly, humans are great at generating a belief about someone or some group and then seeking out all the information they need to confirm that theory to be true.
Consequently, when it comes to challenging generational assumptions what you need is to put people of different generations in a situation where they can actually gather some real insight. Traditional mentoring is good here but reverse mentoring, where a younger employee helps upskill an older employee, is better.2
By its very nature reverse mentoring challenges stereotypes. The older employee, having agreed to the reverse mentoring is open to learning new ideas from the next generation, so therefore cannot be an “old”, “inflexible” dinosaur. Similarly, by purely connecting more closely with a younger employee the older employee will get a more rounded and realistic idea of the millennial myths and truths.
Above all reverse mentoring will highlight how, despite generational trends, actually everyone is individual. Essentially, disrupting the idea that ‘everyone from that generation is like that’. Furthermore, it provides the brain with alternative generational evidence to consider breaking the automatic cycle that keeps stereotypes alive.
Stereotyping is an implicit, automatic reaction that occurs without conscious awareness, and a wealth of evidence shows that trying to control thoughts actually causes them to be more prevalent in our minds.3
What has been shown to work well in relation to stereotypes is promoting awareness of these unconscious reactions through mindfulness training.3 Specifically, research has shown that just noticing when your mind makes these generalisations, without judging the thoughts or the process as being inherently good or bad can lead to a less judgemental attitude.
Have you noticed any sweeping stereotypes about millennials in your organisation? How have you gone about challenging these?
1 Devine, P. G. (1989). Stereotypes and prejudice: their automatic and controlled components. Journal of personality and social psychology, 56, 5
2 Marcinkus Murphy, W. (2012). Reverse mentoring at work: Fostering cross‐generational learning and developing millennial leaders. Human Resource Management, 51, 549-573
3 Kang, Y., Gruber, J., & Gray, J. R. (2013). Mindfulness and de-automatization. Emotion Review, 5, 192-201